Indictment completes Trump story

Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland on March 4, 2023. (Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times)

Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland on March 4, 2023. (Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times)

WASHINGTON — There was a time, not too long ago really, when Donald Trump said he cared about the sanctity of classified information. That was of course when his opponent was accused of jeopardizing him and it was a useful political weapon for Trump.

Throughout 2016, he lambasted Hillary Clinton for using a private email server instead of a secure government server. “I will apply all laws regarding the protection of classified information,” he said. “No one will be above the law. Clinton’s cavalier handling of sensitive information, he said, “disqualifies her from the presidency.”

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Seven years later, Trump faces criminal charges for endangering national security by taking classified documents when he left the White House and refusing to return them all even after being subpoenaed. Even in the US political department of what’s going on, it’s pretty remarkable that the issue that helped propel Trump to the White House in the first place now threatens to ruin his chances of getting back there.

The indictment handed over by a federal grand jury at the request of Special Counsel Jack Smith effectively brings the Trump story full circle. “Lock her up,” chanted crowds at her campaign rallies with her encouragement. Now he could be the one locked up if convicted of any of seven reported counts, including conspiracy to obstruct justice and willful withholding of documents.

The indictment is the second brought against the former president in recent months, but in many ways eclipses the first in terms of legal seriousness and political peril. The first indictment, announced in March by the Manhattan District Attorney, accused Trump of falsifying business documents to conceal money from an adult film actress who alleged they had had a sex date. The second is brought by a federal prosecutor representing the nation as a whole, the first in American history against a former president, and concerns the secrets of the nation.

While Trump’s defenders have tried to paint the former as the work of a locally elected Democrat on issues that, while unseemly, seem relatively trivial and happened before he took office, the latest accusations stem directly from of his responsibility as commander-in-chief of the nation. save data that could be useful to America’s enemies.

Republican voters may not care if their leader slips money to a porn star to keep her quiet, but will they be indifferent to the idea of ​​preventing authorities from recovering material? clandestine?

Maybe. Trump certainly hopes so. Manhattan’s indictment only seemed to boost his ratings rather than hurt him. And so he immediately threw in the latest indictment in the most extravagant conspiracy in American history, one which, in its narrative, appears to involve a wide array of local and federal prosecutors, grand jurors, judges , plaintiffs, regulators and witnesses who all lied. for years to set him up when he is the only one telling the truth, regardless of the charges.

“I never thought it possible that such a thing could happen to a former President of the United States, who received far more votes than any sitting President in the history of our country, and who leads currently, by far, every candidate, both Democrat and Republican, in the polls for the 2024 presidential election,” he wrote on his social media site, making multiple misleading claims in a single sentence. “I AM AN INNOCENT MAN!”

So far his core supporters have stuck with him and even some of those running against him for the Republican nomination next year have criticized the investigations against him. But he was recently found guilty of sexual abuse in a civil trial, his company was found guilty of 17 counts of tax evasion and other crimes and he still faces two other possible indictments stemming from of his efforts to reverse his 2020 election defeat, leading to the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

The question, at least politically, is whether the accumulation of all these allegations will ever weigh him down among Republican voters who like him otherwise, especially if there is a third and possibly a fourth indictment. . At least some of his rivals for the party nomination are counting on the fatigue factor that will eventually wear down his support.

As for Clinton, if she felt a little schadenfreude on Thursday night, the defeated candidate herself didn’t say so. But she and her allies have long believed that the reopening of the investigation by email by then-FBI director James Comey days before the 2016 election cost her the victory that so many polls predicted.

Trump will try to turn the tables on his pursuers, arguing that the fact that he was charged where Clinton was not is proof that he is unjustly persecuted.

Never mind that the facts of the cases were different, that he appeared to be doing everything possible to intentionally thwart authorities trying to retrieve the secret documents for months as investigators concluded Clinton was not deliberately trying to break the law. . But it will be a useful political argument for Trump to insist that he is a victim of double standards.

Why, given the 2016 campaign, he failed to recognize the potential danger of mishandling classified information and pay more attention to it is another matter. But he has spent much of his presidency ignoring concerns about information security and government document retention rules.

He leaked highly classified information to Russian officials who visited him in the Oval Office. He uploaded sensitive satellite images of Iran. He continued to use an unsecured cell phone even after learning he was being watched by Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies. He tore up official documents and threw them on the ground when he was done despite laws requiring them to be saved and cataloged, leaving helpers to pick up the torn pieces and glue them back together.

Even when faced with the consequences of his actions, Trump never expressed concern. He was the president, after all, and he could do whatever he wanted. Even when investigating the classified documents he brought to Mar-a-Lago, he defended himself by claiming he had the power to declassify anything he wanted just by thinking about it.

But he is no longer president. Now he will have to face not only primary voters who will decide whether he has been disqualified from the presidency, but a prosecutor who says he will enforce laws regarding the protection of classified information.

Trump will be considered an accused criminal and, barring an unforeseen development, will ultimately be tried by a jury of his peers.

What a difference seven years make.

circa 2023 The New York Times Society

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